Meet the new Gentoo Penguin at Milwaukee County Zoo! The chick hatched on December 18 to parents Oscar and Fiona.
The chick still has its soft, fluffy down feathers, which provide warmth but are not suited for swimming. Only when the chick molts into its waterproof plumage, usually around one or two months of age, will it begin learning to swim.
Gentoo Penguin parents take turns feeding and caring for their chicks. Both Oscar and Fiona have reared chicks before. The gender of the new chick is not yet known, and will be determined by a blood test. It’s not possible to tell males from females by sight alone.
Penguin chicks at the zoo must learn to take fish from zoo keepers, and this training usually occurs after they have been weaned from their parents and begin to molt. It’s during the molt that the chick’s “baby fuzz” is replaced by sleek, waterproof feathers.
Once the chick has its shiny new feathers, it will be gradually introduced to the exhibit pool and to the other birds in the habitat.
Gentoo Penguins are native to Antarctica. They stand two to three feet tall as adults, making them the third-largest Penguin species, after Emperor and King Penguins. Gentoos live in colonies of several hundred birds along the Antarctic Coast and surrounding islands. These Penguins may dive as many as 500 times per day in search of fish, krill, and squid to eat.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Gentoo Penguin as a “Species of Least Concern,” though some individual populations have declined rapidly in recent years.